However, membership of the group has been fiercely contested – with Farnham Residents’ county councillors Andy MacLeod and Stephen Spence only added hours before its first meeting amid much behind-the-scenes debate over who is leading the initiative: Tory MP and county, or Farnham Residents town and borough.
Pouncing on the group’s chaotic beginnings at last Thursday’s meeting of Farnham Town Council, former town mayors John Ward (Farnham Residents’ member for Shortheath and Boundstone) and Carole Cockburn (Tory, The Bourne), and Waverley executive member Mark Merryweather (Lib Dem, Weybourne and Badshot Lea) each took turns to criticise the group.
Addressing members, Cllr Ward, who is also Waverley leader, began by blasting the group for its “poor process and poor procedures” – lamenting that “decisions were being made by people chatting outside of meetings”.
“I have a lot of concern about what tail is wagging what dog,” he added.
He did, though, endorse the suggestion of co-chairmen – Cllr MacLeod representing Waverley and Surrey, and John Neale the town council – as a way to “legalise the process and make the group more open and transparent”.
A vote on the board’s co-chairs itself descended into confusion, however, after Cllrs Ward and Cockburn pointed out Farnham Town Council could not legally appoint Waverley’s chair. Instead, members endorsed the “concept” of co-chairs.
Cllr Merryweather, a Waverley executive member, endorsed Cllr Ward’s reservations and expressed his own “general frustration” at the way the group has operated so far.
And Cllr Cockburn, the driving force behind the Farnham Neighbourhood Plan, added the group has to date “hurtled from one chaotic decision to another”, and accused it of failing to follow the example set by the successful town plan process which strived to involve residents from its instigation.
“We really have to get this right,” she continued. “At present, there is no real plan for how we communicate our ideas to the public, and I feel unrepresented on this board.
“We risk consulting people so far down the line that we will not engage the public.”
Council leader John Neale (Farnham Residents, Firgrove) said the group was “not a secret”, but added a “lot of work” was currently being undertaken by Surrey’s programme managers, which will be made public and open for debate soon.